Amy Winehouse, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. At the end of the line the young British singer may have discovered that life ain't for everyone. She had the world in her hand but put it down to pick up the bottle. Sadly, it's the one thing she couldn't put down. When she died of alcohol poisioning, the cruelest part of all was how few were surprised. By then, Amy Winehouse was running on fumes.
At heart, Winehouse was one of the great singers of her generation. She took the basics of soul music and turned it into her own invention. Not trying to be the next Aretha Franklin gave her the freedom of chasing a new dream. It's a stone-cold testament to her voice and spirit that Winehouse caught that dream and then some. The woman really did have it all.
Lioness: Hidden Treasures is a bit of a misnomer, because these songs found in various states of completion after the lady's death aren't treasures by any stretch. Several are very good, maybe, while others would likely have never have come out if Winehouse hadn't died. As an album, it's a good EP.
The cover of Ruby & the Romantics "Our Day Will Come" is a reggaefied joy, something lovers everywhere should rejoice over, but "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" is marred by an overamped drum pattern and stodgy arrangement. Too bad Winehouse didn't strip all that back and go for the gut, with just an acoustic guitar and standup bass. That would have been chilling. Even a jazzy "Girl from Ipanema" never quite gets past being earthbound. Other tracks sound solid but none are timestoppers, which is exactly what the singer specialized in.
Near the end of the set Amy Winehouse and Tony Bennett combine on "Body and Soul." It's a beauty, with the ghost of Billie Holiday so present in more ways than one that it's almost eerie. Self-destruction is never a pretty sight, and what these two female singers went through is beyond heartbreak because the whole world lost when their lives were cut short. Here's hoping the vault scouring stops now, and we can all remember Winehouse for the Back to Black album and leave it at that. Nothing more is needed. That one said it all.
Various Artists, This One's for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark. There aren't many Nashville songwriters who walk with the weight of Guy Clark. Another fine Texan, he moved to Music City at the end of the '60s and slowly built a reputation that is absolutely righteous. And it's not so much that he's written boatloads of hits, though there have been many, but rather almost every single song from Clark's heart hits home. Not many other songwriters miss as infrequently as this man.
The idea of 30 artists each covering a Guy Clark original seems too good to be true. Finally, a whole basketful of wonders from a country music icon get to shine in one place. Shine they do, too. It would be foolish to quibble who is at the top of the two-disc collection, whether it's Rodney Crowll, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris or Shawn Colvin. In a seeming fluke of nature, every single one is a keeper.
Maybe it's the lesser known lights that hit home the hardest, artists like Verlon Thompson, Terri Hendrix, and Shawn Camp, going for the surprise factor for extra impact.The chance to perform "All Through Throwing Good Love after Bad," "The Dark" or "Homeless" gives each one, respectively, a leg up on greatness to be sure. Clark classics like "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train," "L.A. Freeway," and "Texas Cookin'" sound equally fine in new hands as they did in those of their creator, and prove that a great song has an eternal brightness of its own.
At the very end of the album Jerry Jeff Walker sings "My Favorite Picture of You," and all those endless Austin nights of the '70s, when this sound was first finding its way into the world, come rushing back. Recorded live in studio with a core house band, as a tribute album This One's For Him rises immediately to that top of that class, and paints a picture of Guy Clark as an American musical hero. Standing on the cover in a 1970 photo with wife Susanna Clark in front of an old VW truck, it's like Norman Rockwell got to take a new crack at capturing the best of our country. He couldn't have picked better people.
Van Dyke Parks, Arrangements Volume I. What an ingenious idea for an album. Gather together different artists that Van Dyke Parks has served as arranger for, add five of his own compositions and, voila, you have instant gratification. Parks, though widely known in music as somewhat of an underground genius, rarely gets the props he deserves. He works with the heart of a child and the chops of a grown-up, whether he's helping Brian Wilson create Smile, producing Ry Cooder or recording his own revered album Song Cycle in 1966. He has always been at the barricades pushing for musical greatness.
Arrangements Volume I is Exhibit A on that front. Opening song "Donovan's Colours" by George Washington Brown is an instantly flabbergasting peek into all that Parks' talent promises. Though it's wholly unknown, the whole world opens in glorious color. After that, each song explodes like fireworks that just won't stop. Ex-Beau Brummel Sal Valentino, Arlo Guthrie, and even Dean Martin's son Dino are wrapped in the warm sonic glow of Van Dyke Park's imagination. Wonders never seem to cease.
On the second half of the album Bonnie Raitt, Cooder, Lowell George solo along with his band Little Feat and, yes, the Mojo Men get to take center stage for superlative star turns. Who can ever forget first hearing the Feat's "Spanish Moon" or Cooder's "One Meatball?" At the time, it felt like a new master was teaching the class and lo and behold it turned out to be Professor Parks. Now we can all experience again just where music can take us in the hands of a magical arranger like this.